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Offboarding Is As Critical As Onboarding

Companies can learn valuable lessons from departing employees

While most managers recognize the importance of helping new hires be productive as quickly as possible, too many ignore the value of getting insights from workers who are leaving for another company.

The exit interview, which falls at the opposite end of the onboarding process, provides an ideal opportunity for managers to get candid comments about leadership and corporate culture.

When structured and timed properly, an exit interview can provide valuable information about what competitors are offering, reinforce a company’s commitment to listening to employees — even when they are departing — and gain clear direction on how to reduce turnover.

Personio, an HR software provider, emphasizes the importance of providing a departing employee a clear summary of what topics will be discussed in an exit interview and its overarching objective. This helps them prepare their remarks and makes it clear that you desire an open conversation in which their opinions are welcomed and will be kept confidential.

Interview After the Exit

It’s standard practice to conduct an exit interview during an employee’s final week. Work Institute, a provider of employee engagement and retention resources, states that timing is the biggest mistake companies make when it comes to conducting exit interviews.

“Studies have shown that exit interviews conducted two to six weeks after termination tend to be richer, more balanced and more helpful in identifying patterns in responses,” a Work Institute report states. “That makes it more likely to identify appropriate action steps that are more likely to result in reduced turnover, improved productivity and higher employee engagement within the organization.”

Giving a former employee a couple weeks on their new job allows them to process their employment experience at the previous job as well as their reasons for leaving. It removes some of the emotion and leads to more accurate and actionable answers that companies can use to affect positive change and reduce turnover.

Providing a departed employee an opportunity to complete a written survey before an exit interview may make them feel more comfortable providing detailed answers. Also, reading their thoughts prior to a meeting will help you develop questions that guide the conversation.

Who Should Conduct an Exit Interview?

In a study of 88 executives and 32 senior leaders from 210 organizations in 33 industries, Harvard Business Review found that 70.9% of exit interviews were handled by HR departments; 19% were completed by the employees’ direct supervisor; 8.9% delegated the job to the direct supervisor’s manager; and 1% used third parties.

Many HR consultants advise against an exit interview being conducted by a direct supervisor. A departing employee is more likely to reveal problems with leadership or corporate culture to an impartial HR representative than to a supervisor or a supervisor’s manager. Other options include a neutral manager or a mentor whom the departing worker trusts.

“A final discussion with a boss is anything but an exit interview, even if that is how it is described,” states a Personio post on the topic. “The best-case scenario here would be a bit of small talk; the worst, a settling of scores.”

No matter who conducts the interview, that person should be trained in active listening, empathetic and not combative. It’s vital to let the interviewee know their opinion is important and could lead to actionable decisions.

What to Ask

Rule No. 1 for exit interviews is don’t shy away from tough questions, but don’t ask questions you don’t want candid answers to. An obvious purpose of an exit interview is to discover what led an employee to seek a new job. Answers to why someone is leaving could reveal a lack of growth opportunities within your company or ineffective training, or it simply may show the departure is due to an opportunity that your company could not match.

Questions should include what was done well within the employee’s department and what could be done better. The worker should also be asked if they had ample opportunity to voice criticism and suggest change without backlash. Did they feel their voice was heard, and did they have sufficient access to their direct supervisor? Was the overall corporate culture positive or negative? Did they receive enough direction—from onboarding through their tenure at the company? Do they feel they were placed in a position to succeed? Was there a good blend of a team objectives and individual goals? What led them to look for another job? Would they recommend the company to a friend? Do they have suggestions for what to look for in their replacement?

Other than asking about a direct supervisor, avoid questions about specific individuals. Also, don’t address office gossip, don’t express your opinions, and don’t use an exit interview as an opportunity to ask the employee to reconsider.

Personio states that consistency in the questions asked of departing employees is important. “If the same criticisms based on the same questions come up repeatedly, that would serve as an immediate signal that something is wrong. In addition to that, it helps to check to see if any of the initiatives you have taken are then reflected in feedback from future ex-employees.”


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Paul Nolan
Paul Nolan
Paul Nolan is the editor of Sales & Marketing Management magazine.

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